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Vietnam forum

Never, ever catch a night bus

Posted by Rohan on 9/1/2010 at 15:04

Posted from within Vietnam.

Having seen nothing in guide books about the night buses in Vietnam except that they are a good budget option, I thought I would make a posting letting people know about my experience between Hue and Hanoi.

I caught the Sinh Cafe night bus and lived to regret it. The condition of the bus was not bad - it looked far better than some other buses that left at the same time that used mattresses with odd looking stains on them. However, these buses are not designed with large westerners in mind (I am 6'2" with a big build).

The bus is basically made up of bunk beds. Rather than sitting in the normal bus position, you sit with your legs straight and the seat tilts back a very long way. Your legs go in a plastic shell underneath the "tilt" section of the seat in front. However, my legs did not even come close to fitting. My estimate is that to sit properly with straight legs, about the tallest you could be is 5'6". I ended up stealing someone else's seat and sitting in one of a small number of seats where your legs hang into the aisle.

The seats are also very narrow. I was in the back row with people either side of me, and there was nowhere to put my arms.

Basically, the bus is built for the Vietnamese, and if you are a large westerner, it is a very uncomfortable experience. The trip lasted about 13 hours including a brief dinner break only 1 1/2 hours into the trip. I think I got about 1 hours sleep. The bumpy road didn't help.

I know this sounds a bit like a whinge, but this is the information the guide books didn't give me. Had I known, I would have paid the extra 50 bucks and flown, so I thought this story might help someone else. I had intended to take a train, but they were sold out.

#1 Rohan has been a member since 16/6/2009. Posts: 63

Posted by Pablot on 9/1/2010 at 18:36

Posted from within Vietnam.

AGREED!!! best is to catch a normal bus (NOT a sleeper) if you are any taller than 5' 6" then you just have a normal seat which although uncomfortable is not torture! or if you are on a sleeper try and find your way to the bottom back of the bus as these seats tend to be longer!

#2 Pablot has been a member since 4/5/2009. Posts: 102

Posted by amhuirnin on 28/6/2010 at 19:59


besides the bunks not being suitable to Westerners (were Asians so i think we'll fit fine), are there any things to look out for when catching night buses? are the night buses from Siem Reap to Saigon ok? safe?

thanks in advance for any reply :)

#3 amhuirnin has been a member since 21/6/2010. Posts: 3

Posted by daawgon on 29/6/2010 at 01:08

No long distance bus is safe in Vietnam - you guys are kidding yourselves!

#4 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,093

Posted by eidoos77 on 29/6/2010 at 14:35

I have never taken one of those sleeperbusses but I will never consider it after what you reported. I have always traveled in a private car. I can verify those roads are very bumpy. Eidoos77.

#5 eidoos77 has been a member since 18/6/2010. Posts: 9

Posted by MADMAC on 30/6/2010 at 01:08

Buses suck. Having traveled about a hundred times in the overnight bus from Mukdahan to Bangkok, and a fair number of times to other destinations, I feel fully qualified to make that determination (and I'm small at 5'6" (1.65 m). The trips are long, arduous, you can't sleep worth a crap... they just suck. Someone here once wrote they are "part of the experience". Yes, they are. The bad part. Fly if you can, or take the train.

#6 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by candyman on 30/6/2010 at 04:21

I've got to disagree here. I'm 6'4" and thought the night buses were awesome--relatively speaking. If it's got to be a bus, I prefer the night buses. Private cars or even a good seat in some vans are better. Yes, I couldn't stretch out but could lie down with my knees bent, and turning to the side wasn't so bad. I struggled going back to the normal buses.

Granted, mine was a 5 hour trip from Saigon to Mui Ne, but it beat the regular bus where my knees are in the aisle or trying to straddle the seat in front of me--which doesn't work. Usually results in bruised knees and your feet not on the ground--knees suspended against the chair in front of you.

It might depend on the bus, but I thought mine was pretty comfy.

#7 candyman has been a member since 20/10/2009. Posts: 20

Posted by busylizzy on 30/6/2010 at 07:50

Yeah, but to be fair Madmac, I suspect you don't represent the typical budget traveller! :-D

I am 5'8" and found an 11-12 hour bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang to be fine. Living in NZ, most of our flights to anywhere outside of the Pacific region are over 8 hours and after many flights cramped up in an economy seat, I can say that I would almost (!) prefer a night bus where I could have a proper lie-down! I just plug an iPod in and make an attempt to snooze.

My 6'2" travelling companion wasn't as impressed, but he survived.

I agree with Candyman - it wasn't that bad. Now compare them to some of the Indonesian bus rides I've been on, and well let's just say, even walking isn't such a bad option!

#8 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by SBE on 30/6/2010 at 16:16

He he I thought you were ex US army, trained to be tough and survive in the most difficult environments this planet can throw at you Madmac? I guess you didn't travel much on the local buses in Ethiopia if you think Thai buses are bad!

I've never been to Vietnam or slept on one of the sleeper buses like the OP describes but I do agree with Busylizzy. Compared to some of the buses in Indonesia (or Burma) they don't sound too bad. I remember wondering if I'd ever walk again after having my legs totally immobilised for about 12 hours on a bus on Sumbawa. Crates of chickens chickens jammed under the seats and only just enough room to get your legs in sideways.

#9 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,004
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Posted by somsai on 30/6/2010 at 20:22

I've only ridden sleeper busses twice. I thought they were relatively luxurious. I've ridden lots of other busses that took all night and they have become less tiresome the more I take them. Dirt roads are a pain.

SBE only if supplied with favorite pillow and tucked in every night.

#10 somsai has been a member since 1/3/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 568

Posted by MADMAC on 1/7/2010 at 10:45

"He he I thought you were ex US army, trained to be tough and survive in the most difficult environments this planet can throw at you Madmac? I guess you didn't travel much on the local buses in Ethiopia if you think Thai buses are bad!"

When I was a young troop, trying to prove how tough I was by not wearing my rain gear during a storm while in the field, a tough, old grizzled Sergeant said to me: "Son, there are no supermen in this world. Just smart ones, and stupid ones. Not wearing your Army issue rain gear when it's raining qualifies as stupid." It is true that public transportation in Ethiopia sucks a lot. More than in Thailand by a long shot. But so what? The bus still sucks here too. Even the VIP night bus with a snack and a little hottie in a short skirt bringing you your beverage. Ten hours confined in a small space with very little to do (and with my luck a fat westerner taking up too much space next to me and having not showered the day previous to boot) is going to suck no matter how you slice it or dice it. Does it suck as much as, say, having Somali mlitia lob mortar rounds at your tent while you are trying to sleep? No. But it still sucks.

#11 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by busylizzy on 1/7/2010 at 14:33

Funny little story, MM!

The thing is Madmac, you live in Thailand, and you are just trying to go about your normal life. Likewise, I've haven't been too inclined to catch buses here in my home country. But when people are in 'travel' mode, they are far more likely to put up with a some level of lack of comfort for the sake of saving a few $. And yes, it IS all part of the travelling experience. Hell, I'm sure my travel stories are MUCH more interesting when I can whinge about how awful they were!

But I still say that Vietnam buses are fine for travelling in. (Now the quality of driving is another story, of course....)

#12 busylizzy has been a member since 31/12/2007. Location: New Zealand. Posts: 2,155
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Posted by JourneymanTraveller on 1/7/2010 at 15:24

Not quite on topic as it relates to Laos but perhaps one of the coolest experiences of my travels was a 16hr bus trip from Luang Prabang in Laos to Huay Xai in the Thailand. We could have taken a plane but it seemed like a way to see Laos that we would not have been open to us otherwise. It was an overnight trip, so we thought we’d save on a night’s accommodation to boot. As we sat at the front of the bus, we were joined by locals alone. Not a single LP devotee in sight. They looked at us with the vaguest hint of surprise which, in a sense, was rather satisfying - yes, we’re crazy enough to take this bus too, I wanted to say. The bus, a battered, bullet-ridden, relic being driven by a diminutive fellow reeking of booze and with a head dotting from side to side in an alarming way, got us there noisily, slowly, terrifyingly and, yet, wonderfully. Yes, we froze and stuffed discarded newspaper and plastic bags into our clothes as we were seated by a broken window, at over 2,000m (Suunto Vector altimeter watch on my wrist), in the dead of night. And yes, there were moments where we wondered if buses such as this disappeared over mountain ravines. Yet, as we wound our way, on tiny, cliff-side roads, into the mountains, the moon cast a supernatural blue velvet blanket across the mountainside. We could see the jungle canopy below us and rocky, dusty mountainous terrain ahead of us. We passed tiny hamlets dotted along the mountain road with the Lao still sitting and drinking under a single light. It was invigorating (well, that could well have been the cold). Several times we stopped and had a break at a roadside camp alongside other buses and trucks, also replete with weary passengers. We ate local food as, simply put, there was nothing else - we would have anyway, but taking a route like this meant there was no Pokhara pizza or Khao San Road burgers to be had. Often, another driver, usually young boys, too young to have a girlfriend, but old enough to take regular tokes on American cigarettes, would take over. Several times these apprentices took us close to the edge of the abyss as their Lao Beer swilling mentor snoozed off his dipsomanic stupor, until he would awake and take over. Sleep for us was not an option for more than half an hour at a time. Eventually, as dawn’s early light heralded arrival of morning, we pulled into the final stop and dutifully (and sleepily) awaited leave to exit Laos, head down to the river and cross into Thailand.

It was a cracking journey!!

#13 JourneymanTraveller has been a member since 28/6/2010. Posts: 24

Posted by MADMAC on 1/7/2010 at 19:11

I guess we'll just have to say that your definition of fun and mine aren't the same and leave it at that.

Of course in that sense you are right. I take the night bus to save money too - it's just that I've taken it often enough now that I despise it. Just getting on requires force of will. I will put off travel to Bangkok for this reason alone, although I love dancing there.

I have actually had some enjoyable bus trips, but they were short, a couple of hours. I invariably end up meeting someone interesting on trips like that (night bus is like a library, not much talking).

#14 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by JourneymanTraveller on 1/7/2010 at 19:35

Madmac: I would concur - it's not everyone's idea of fun (not sure I described it as "fun") and at the time, it was somewhat hair-raising but looking back, it really was an experience and even bad or challenging ones can be filed under "worthwhile"!! It's simply something that I'll never forget.

#15 JourneymanTraveller has been a member since 28/6/2010. Posts: 24

Posted by exacto on 1/7/2010 at 22:49

i always thought there are two issues here. the first is comfort. if the overnight bus is the only affordable or logistically the best way to get where you are going, then go, and chalk it up to "part of the experience." but if you've got another good option, like a nice comfy overnight train or breaking the journey into two part, by all means do that to. just because you are trained to manage uncomfortable conditions doesn't mean you need to seek them.

the second and more important issue to me is safety. i typically avoid the overnight buses, and travelling by road at night in general, simply because it isn't as safe as other means. when i was living in Thailand in the late 90's, there was an epidemic of late night/early morning long-haul bus crashes. that's improved now, but even so, the overnight buses just aren't as safe as other options. regards.

#16 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,631
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Posted by MADMAC on 2/7/2010 at 01:03

Again, we find ourselves in violent agreement.

"It's simply something that I'll never forget."

Kind of like me being attacked with mortars by Somali militiamen. It was definitely part of the experience and I will definitely not forget it.

I'm glad you had a good time though. SEA is funny that way. I have a lot of fun here even if it can be labelled as "unconventional".

#17 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by spreekitik on 2/7/2010 at 13:06

this is an interesting thread. I live in the Philippines and I can confirm the "smallness" of bus seats. Not just here, but in some SEA countries as well. I don't think we have too much sleeper bus types but I've always taken the bus when going around. I'm going to Vietnam this month and am taking the Saigon-Moc Bai bus. It's a short trip compared to those previously posted, but I'm looking forward to have a first-hand experience.

#18 spreekitik has been a member since 5/4/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by noflyzone on 2/7/2010 at 20:26

We took an Open Tour bus from Ninh Binh to Hue that was hell on earth. No space, horns blazing, no curtains etc...take the train in future...

#19 noflyzone has been a member since 9/6/2010. Posts: 11

Posted by Hemsi on 2/7/2010 at 21:33

Hey guys,

we just returned from our Vietnam trip 3 weeks ago. We took the a sleeping bus twice.

The first trip was hell - from Nha Trang to Hoi An . It was an old, uncomfortable bus (actually it was an old Korean Airport bus) and a bus driver, who was driving like a real mad man! Still, we managed to sleep quite a while until about 5 in the morning: Suddenly we bumped into something really hard, followed by a very harsh stop! Our first thought: The bus hit a motorbike ... "fortunately" it was "only" a water buffalo. It wasn't dead, but couldn't move or stand up. The whole village was there in no time, the buffalo was rolled off the road with two wooden planks, blood everywhere. We saw the bus driver paying the farmer some money ... still, it must be a very hard loss for the farmer and his family. We arrived alive in Hoi An some time later, the bus driver was still driving like hell, the whole front of the bus was damaged. Puh, thank God, we made it.

Anyway, we took a sleeping bus a second time from Hue to Hanoi. This was fantastic, it was one of these "bunk bed buses" from Sinh Tourist described in the first post. I actually slept for over 7 hours ...

So, I think, it depends on the bus company that you choose. I actually don't know our first bus company, since we booked the tickets at the reception from our hotel (which I would never do again!). I consider sleeping buses a good cheap and time saving option to get around in Vietnam.

Just don't forget your earplugs and a pillow ;-)

#20 Hemsi has been a member since 6/3/2010. Posts: 16

Posted by Manticore on 5/7/2010 at 11:08

Posted from within Vietnam.

I'm a small guy and I HATED that trip! It not just the cramped conditions. It's the bumpy road, the extra loud tv, and the constant honking (what is he honking at? There's no one else on the road?)

For any bus trip longer than 5h, TRAIN OR FLY IT.

#21 Manticore has been a member since 9/11/2006. Posts: 67

Posted by SBE on 5/7/2010 at 19:50

"For any bus trip longer than 5h, TRAIN OR FLY IT."

What if you want to go somewhere and there's no other transport option? Lots of places don't have airports or rail connections.

You do what you like Manticore, but I'd hate to limit my travels to places that can only be reached by plane or train or

#22 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,004
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Posted by SBE on 5/7/2010 at 19:58

...less than 5 hours on a bus.

(Strange, part of what I wrote in my previous post didn't work.... I wonder whether using a "less than" sign causes anything written after it to disappear? Scuse me while I just do a wee test...

#23 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,004
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Posted by MADMAC on 6/7/2010 at 00:56

"What if you want to go somewhere and there's no other transport option? Lots of places don't have airports or rail connections."

Well, I agree, except that the cost differential when all is said and done is a factor of three if I bus it. I only take the bus to BKK. I don't travel otherwise outside of Isaan and I take my chopper to get to those places. But cost and access are of course factors. If I were backpacking, I would break a journey of more than 5 hours up with a day stop somewhere.

#24 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by exacto on 6/7/2010 at 04:23

I think MADMAC makes an extra great point about breaking up those long trips that might otherwise require an overnight bus trip into two (or more) shorter trips. I've had some really great fun that I otherwise would have missed in places like Kamphaeng Phet and Phitsanulok by making a stop instead of rushing on.

Again, for me it is an issue of safety more than comfort, and I don't like taking overnight buses because of the risk of a crash. But I also understand that sometimes it is the only option that fits your schedule. If you wind up having to take the overnight but, definitely get the best bus possible. This isn't the time to save a bit of money on your ticket. In Thailand, for example, there are VIP buses that run with only 24 seats instead of the standard 40 seats. They tend to cost about twice as much as the regular bus, but for those extra long hauls they are definitely worth the money.

#25 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,631
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Posted by spreekitik on 6/7/2010 at 04:55

exacto punto, exacto. the beauty about traveling by bus is that the fares are way cheaper than other options. you can get the best seats without thinking twice.

#26 spreekitik has been a member since 5/4/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by SBE on 6/7/2010 at 16:00

Getting off a bus after 5 hours is certainly an option but it doesn't necessarily make the trip any safer or any more comfortable. Also if you're on a tight budget it can add to transport costs because there's often a fixed fare for any particular bus route... passengers pay the same regardless of where they get off.

Couple of years back I went from Rantepao to Poso when I was on Sulawesi (Indonesia). This journey took about 17 hours when I did it but it can be a lot longer, depends on the state of the road. Last year that same trip was taking 35+ hours because of a lengthy deviation due to landslides on the usual route. (There aren't that many alternative roads to chose from in central Sulawesi).

I did check out all the bus companies in Rantepao because I knew it was going to be a very long and tiring bus trip. I was quite prepared to pay extra if there was a comfortable bus option available. No such luck, all the companies used the same kind of clapped out bone-shakers. This was going to be one of those non A/C, blaring music, honking horn jobs complete with Indonesian men chain smoking for the duration. (Anti smoking laws on public transport haven't quite caught on yet in Indonesia and practically all the men smoke)

The only "VIP" option was to hire a private car and driver and that was way too expensive for me.

Sure I could have broken up the long bus journey if I'd wanted to, but the benefits of doing so didn't seem very obvious to me.

1. I'd still have had to get back on the exact same buses for the onward journey... ie it changed nothing as far as safety/risk of an accident was concerned. Just because I'd got off and had a rest didn't mean the drivers were any less tired.

2. The buses were always very full. Getting off before my final destination would have meant waiting for ages by the side of the road until a bus passed by with enough standing room for another passenger. There's practically no chance you'd actually get a seat for the rest of the journey.

#27 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,004
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Posted by exacto on 6/7/2010 at 22:37

hola SBE!

yup. there are definitely extreme cases like the one you mention above when you just have to suck it up and make it "part of the adventure." another one i'd consider is the Vientiane to Pakse VIP bus, although stopovers in Thakhek or Savannakhet are viable options.

for clarification, the additional safety i mentioned was taking two day bus trips verses an overnight bus trip, because stats show that the overnight trips have more crashes. it's an additional measure of safety at the margin travelling by day, not necessarily safe vs. unsafe.

as for comfort? i think it is safe to say that the longer a trip is the less comfy it becomes. legs get stiff. bones get shaken. they rarely stop to pee. roadside food is typically awful. etc. i enjoyed the recent bus trip i took from Savannakhet to Pakse. it was uncomfortable but tolerable at 6 hours. the same conditions for 10 hours would have been unbearable.

i agree with you too that it is important to pick up at bus at its point of origin to get a decent seat, etc. in fact, i made that same observation in my Savannakhet to Pakse bus ride trip report. fun stuff yes? cheers.

#28 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,631
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Posted by smkuchta on 7/7/2010 at 22:04

We took one overnight train and one overnight bus in our 5 month trip through SE Asia last year and I can't say I'd recommend either.

We took the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue and it was relatively comfortable if you ignored the cockroaches and the fact that it felt like the train was hitting speed bumps every few minutes.

We also took the VIP bus from Pakse to Vientiane and this was worse (tho my wife would argue the train was worse mostly due to the cockroaches). The beds would be comfortable for two small children but for two normal sized adults they were terribly short and narrow.

We luckily weren't on any kind of time crunch so didn't mind taking day bus/trains for most of the trip. I like seeing the countryside as well which you obviously don't get on a night trip.

I found with the night trips we were so exhausted the next day from lack of sleep that the day was basically a write off.

#29 smkuchta has been a member since 10/8/2007. Posts: 72

Posted by violets on 8/7/2010 at 17:07

Stopping every four or five hours is a great way to see places that aren't on the tourist trail and are better for that. I loved Pleiku and Tuyen Quang and found I enjoyed short local bus trips. Some tourist buses are more comfortable than the tourist buses but the very worst bus I got was a tourist bus and was ridiculously slow and overcrowded. Local buses give you the additional advantage of meeting locals. I would never travel in a bus overnight though- too dangerous.

#30 violets has been a member since 6/7/2009. Posts: 151

Posted by Manticore on 12/7/2010 at 15:26

Posted from within Vietnam.

ok, looks like I have to state the obvious:

For any bus trip longer than 5h, train or fly it (IF AVAILABLE AND DOESNT COST MUCH MORE)

#31 Manticore has been a member since 9/11/2006. Posts: 67

Posted by Manticore on 12/7/2010 at 18:13

Posted from within Vietnam.

I shouldnt have used caps, my bad :(

#32 Manticore has been a member since 9/11/2006. Posts: 67

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